14 April 2022
The Roman Catholic Church of Saint Mary Magdalene on High Street in Stony Stratford is one of two churches in a parish that also includes Saint Francis de Sales in Wolverton.
The parish is in the Diocese of Northampton and describes itself as the mother church of Milton Keynes. The parish boundaries extend to Aylesbury to the south, Buckingham to the west, Olney to the east and Pottersbury to the north.
The parish traces its origins to the Roman Catholic response to the Catholic Emancipation and the Industrial Revolution, which saw the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in England in 1850 and the growth of the railway town of Wolverton at the same time.
As early as 1836, the small village Wolverton had been selected as mid-point between the London-Birmingham railway line. By 1860, Wolverton had become an important, thriving railway town. As it developed, Catholics in Wolverton were served by a priest from Aylesbury or had to walk nine miles to Weston Underwood for Sunday Mass. As early as 1844 pastoral care was being extended by the church at Weedon to ‘Wolverton Station’.
Father Francis Cambours arrived in Wolverton in 1864 and within a short time had raised £1,000 towards establishing a ‘mission’. The church in Wolverton opened on Trinity Sunday 1867.
There is no clear reason why the church was named after Saint Francis de Sales, the patron of writers and journalists, although 1867 was the third centenary of his birth.
Father Wilf Johnson was the parish priest of Wolverton from 1954 to 1977, and in 1954 he began building of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene in Stony Stratford. The new church was completed in 1957 and was blessed on 25 September 1958. He moved to Wellingborough in 1977, and later died there.
Father Paddy Connolly became parish priest of Wolverton, and in 1973 he moved to Stony Stratford which was now a parish in its own right.
Wolverton came under the CRIC Fathers or Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception. As resident priests in Wolverton, they began their mission to the new city of Milton Keynes as it was being built.
The parishes of Saint Francis de Sales in Wolverton and Saint Mary Magdalene in Stony Stratford were amalgamated in 2002, returning to their pre-1976 status.
Saint Mary Magdalene Church in Stony Stratford is a plain structure of the 1950s occupying a fairly prominent position in the local conservation area at the north-west end of the High Street. Although the church does not make a particularly positive contribution to the character of the area, it has some furnishings of note.
Stony Stratford had two mediaeval churches dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalen and to Saint Giles. Saint Mary’s was severely damaged by fire in 1742, but its tower survives across the street from the present Catholic church, which explains why it is dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene.
The church was built on the site of a large Georgian townhouse in the High Street known as Saint Oswald’s. The church was designed by Wilfred T Deacon and built by Laing. It opened on 25 September 1958 and was consecrated on 24 November 1984.
The church is more or less orientated north-south, instead of the liturgically conventional east-west orientation. It is an astylar modern design, built of light rustic brick laid in English bond, with a shallow pitched felt-covered roof with overhanging timber box eaves.
There is a projecting full-height forebuilding, the west elevation of which is mainly glazed, with a large carved crucifix of German Romanesque character over the main entrance.
Small later lean-to brick additions abut this forebuilding in the re-entrants on either side.
The main body of the church lies behind, and is wider. The side elevations have a long window with metal frame on either side at the liturgical west end of the nave and a wider five-light window with hardwood timber subdivisions on either side at the liturgical east end. There is a small and later canted sanctuary addition, contemporary with a link building connecting to the presbytery at the rear of the site.
The main entrance leads into a lobby beneath a gallery. The interior includes a wide nave with no aisles and with plastered walls and a plaster ceiling. At the (liturgical) west end, the internal walls are brick faced at gallery level.
The sanctuary is in a flat arched recess at the (liturgical) east end, indirectly lit from above, and carved wooden rood figures are fixed to the wall over the arch.
A dais projects forward from this, with a modern marble clad altar, and a tabernacle stand behind.
The altar rails were mentioned by Sir Niklaus Pevsner, the architectural historian, in his guide to Buckinghamshire, but have since been removed.
The church has a number of older hardwood furnishings, including a high-backed Gothic presidential chair, a table by the window on the left-hand side of the sanctuary and a carving of Saint George and the Dragon on the gallery front. The provenance for these has not been established. The nave has simple, original bench pews.
Father Bernard Barrett has been the parish priest of Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Mary Magdalene since 1995.
We are coming close to the end of Holy Week, the last and closing week of Lent. Today is Maundy Thursday and the prayer in the Parish of Stony Stratford with Calverton today (14 April 2022) is that ‘We may keep watch with Christ.’
But, even before today begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.
During Lent this year, in this Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, I have been reflecting on the Psalms each morning. But during these two weeks of Passiontide, Passion Week and Holy Week, I am reflecting in these ways:
1, Short reflections on the Stations of the Cross, illustrated by images in the Church of the Annunciation, Clonard, Wexford, and the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles in Stony Stratford, Milton Keynes;
2, the Gospel reading of the day in the lectionary adapted in the Church of Ireland;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.
Station 12, Jesus dies on the Cross:
In an unusual arrangement, the Stations of the Cross in the church in Clonard are set in the curved outer wall of the church in 14 windows designed by Gillian Deeny of Wicklow. In her windows, she emphasises the role of women in the Passion story.
Her windows were made in association with Abbey Glass, where she worked with the cut-out shapes of coloured glass, the pigment being a mixture of lead oxide, ground glass and colour. Each window is signed by the artist.
The Stations of the Cross on the north and south walls of the nave in Stony Stratford were donated in memory of John Dunstan (1924-1988).
The Twelfth Station in the Stations of the Cross has a traditional description such as ‘Jesus dies on the Cross.’
In Station XII in Clonard, Christ dies, his jaw drops, his head falls to one side limply, his side is pierced, the bones of his ribs press through his skin, blood drips from his head, his hands and his side.
Is Christ alone and abandoned on the Cross?
In the Stony Stratford station, there are only two figures at the foot of the Cross: Saint John, who is kneeling, his hands crossed in prayer, and the Virgin Mary, whose hands are clasped in prayer as she looks up to her son in her grief and her distress. But in a way, their presence here makes them representatives of all humanity, male and female, brought to the foot of the Cross on that first Good Friday.
John 13: 1-17, 31b-35 (NRSVA):
1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ 7 Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ 8 Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ 9 Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ 10 Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Light in the Darkness.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Revd Anthony Gyu-Yong Shim of the Diocese of Daejeon in the Anglican Church of Korea. The prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (14 April 2022, Maundy Thursday) invites us to pray:
May we be humble in our attitude to each other and truly love one another.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org